In times of uncertainty, it is natural for people to worry about having their affairs in order and making sure their loved ones are protected. The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many people to review or prepare their estate plan. Even if you are so healthy you can bench press 800 pounds with one arm while stir-frying tofu and veggies with the other, you still need an estate plan.
The first step is to have a will prepared to control who your beneficiaries will be and ensure your loved ones are provided for. If you do not have a will, when you pass away your assets will be distributed according to the order of inheritance decided by the state you live in.
In North Carolina, if you are single and have no biological heirs, your parents are entitled to inherit your entire estate. Do not want your parents to receive that inheritance? Then you need a will specifying who the beneficiaries will be. The law also adds a layer of complexity for LGBTQ couples who are not legally married. Most states will not recognize your partner as your inheritance beneficiary unless you have that person listed in your will. Solution: Make a will.
Parents in LGBTQ families should make special note of how this law affects them. Default inheritance rules apply only to biological children. It is important to have a will to provide for adopted or non-biological children.
A will and trust are usually the main documents to have, but a good estate planning lawyer will also prepare advance directives such as a healthcare power of attorney, durable power of attorney and living will. These documents allow you to designate someone you know and trust to make decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself.
A healthcare power of attorney assigns an agent to make certain medical decisions for you when you are unable to consent to treatments. Similarly, a durable power of attorney assigns someone to act on your behalf for non-medical matters. A living will can provide guidance to your doctor and healthcare power of attorney regarding your end of life wishes and if you want to be kept on life support.
Let us look a little more closely at why you would take the time in the middle of a pandemic to schedule an appointment with an attorney and create these legal tools.
You are driving around town on your own, happy to finally be able to get out. Another car runs a red light and rams into you. You are seriously hurt and unable to communicate. After the ambulance rushes you to the hospital, your doctor has important information to share about your condition, and your partner is frantic to know. But the doctor is not allowed to discuss your health or treatments with your partner or anyone else without your authorization. Because you never created a healthcare power of attorney document, there is no authorization.
That is just one scenario that reveals why these documents are important. A healthcare power of attorney is also a way to make your wishes known in advance about your healthcare. Given the current restrictions on visitors at hospitals, it is even more essential to have a healthcare power of attorney prepared to ensure that your healthcare providers follow your desires as much as possible. People tend to assume estate planning is solely for after you are gone, but these tools help you plan for situations if you can no longer communicate or handle your own affairs.
We are all doing our best to stay safe and healthy during COVID-19. But smart planning means being prepared. Estate planning may seem daunting, but really it is all about having ease of mind that we will be cared for during the end of our lives and that our loved ones will be taken care of after we pass. If you have already been proactive and prepared your estate planning documents, gently check with your partner or loved ones to see if they have as well.
Having these documents in place is ultimately an act of caring for those you love, especially during the public health and economic crises of COVID-19.
Sara Shariff is an attorney with Hull & Chandler in Charlotte who practices estate planning law and business transactional law. She is admitted to practice throughout North Carolina. Shariff is a native of Charlotte, where she lives with her spouse. Reach her at .